Dispatch from Hurricane Ida

Shortest story: I’m back home, with my savings and my fridge contents a lot lighter.

This hurricane season is not over, and there are lessons in it for all of us — no matter where we live.

The thing about hurricane season is every storm is completely different, but all you can do is use what you know about every other storm to get through this one.

Hurricane Ida was not another Katrina — but that’s because the devastation of Katrina on New Orleans was about human failure (the levee system breach), and not the wrath of Mother Nature.

The wrath of Ida on South Louisiana — from the River Parishes to Down the Bayou — is huge. And devastating. And I will keep talking about that.

But In 2020, five named storms hit the coast of Louisiana. The last one hit on October 28. So this may only be the beginning of the 2021 season.

Storms are getting stronger, and more frequent.

This, my beloveds, may be our new normal.

If you are from New Orleans, the first part of this note is for you.

If you are not from New Orleans, the second part is for you.

You can read both, of course.

There’s an extra bit at the end for all of us. Because we all have a part to play.

New Orleanians (current and former):

It’s okay if you are exhausted.

It’s okay if you’re angry at things you don’t usually get angry at.

It’s okay if you burst into tears over nothing.

It’s okay if it feels pointless to go to work today.

If you have employees or colleagues, take it easy on them today.

If you work on your own, take it easy on yourself.

For those of us who lived in New Orleans in 2005, we are processing 16 years in this one breath. Ida was not Katrina, but it was enough to touch all the dark corners we’ve been avoiding since then.

I am hopeful that this storm gives some of us a chance to metabolize the trauma of 2005. But I know for many it will simply dredge up that old fury, confusion, and grief — and you will see it on the faces of your fellows for weeks.

It’s normal if you don’t want to go back to work today.

It’s normal if all you want to do is go back to work, and pretend like none of this happened.

It’s normal if you can’t focus.

It’s normal if you have the most productive week you’ve had since March 2020.

There is no “right way” to handle this. Be cautious about expecting everyone else to respond the way that you do.

There is no shortcut to healing. There is no magic potion to get over this.

But here some things that might help:

1Be present with yourself and your feelings. Don’t pull them in, and don’t push them away. Can you feel the emotion in your body, without getting caught in the whirlwind of the story surrounding them?

2Rest. Eat. Drink water. Go outside. Move your body. These things always help, but right now they are non-negotiable. If you find yourself, like me, thinking “I don’t have time to…” cut that out right now. We don’t have time not to.

3Help someone else. Let someone go ahead of you in traffic. Hold the door for someone. Give to a mutual aid fund. Volunteer down the bayou or upriver.

We’re going to get through this the same way we always have: Community, humor, and music.

And the Mardi Gras costumes are gonna be epic.

If you are not a New Orleanian:

We need you to pay attention right now. The news cycle has moved on.

In some ways, it feels like the news skipped us all together, distracted by Afghanistan and politics.

But even if we got our 15 minutes, I can guarantee nobody told the story that we lived.

Our physical infrastructure failed — every single distribution line for our power was “catastrophically” damaged.

But that’s not because the eye of a Cat 4 hurricane came over our city — because it didn’t. The maximum sustained winds in New Orleans were 90mph, equivalent to a Category 1 Hurricane.

Yes, that’s a serious storm — but not enough for catastrophic damage. I say that because Hurricane Zeta was a Category 1 Hurricane, and the eye came right over New Orleans on October 28, 2020.

This damage is because our power company was still “evaluating” the expense of repairs from last hurricane season.

Our government still hasn’t shown up. Don’t be confused by news conferences. The storm hit two weeks ago — many folks in South Louisiana are still without power, and many cannot go home.

Could you afford to leave your house for two weeks, while your job was closed? Maybe you’re on salary, and you’d still have income. But where would you go if you couldn’t go home?

And would $1,061 + $500 cover it? Because that is the MAX you would have received by now.

I spent 10 days in Birmingham with Delilah and Viola. I just sent my itemized expenses to my insurance company: $1,753. I don’t have children or other adults. That’s one adult and two pets.

Some people still haven’t gotten a dime from FEMA.

Some folks are sleeping in their houses with holes in the roof and no power because they simply have nowhere else to go.

This is why I have been volunteering with a mutual aid network called the Ida Support Network. Within 5 days after the storm, we had set up a volunteer-staffed, community informed toll-free number that folks could call or text.

We’ve been connecting Louisianans to resources — from on-the-ground gas delivery for life-saving generators to support with housing and clothing needs.

And most of all, we’ve been amplifying the real human financial needs in a crisis like this.

If you go to our Instagram Page: (https://www.instagram.com/idasupportnetwork/), you’ll see some Story Highlights titled “Direct Aid”. There you’ll see story after story of folks stranded and struggling who need real help right now.

$10 will help them. $50 helps more.

We need your help.

Please keep talking about what’s happening here. Please keep fundraising for south Louisiana.

We need you.

For All of Us

Last, but not least, I’m participating in a fundraising event on Friday, September 17 called “Tiny Businesses for Mutual Aid.”

I’ll be offering single sessions, for a minimum donation of $100, for 50 minutes of astrology, coaching, yoga, or spiritual guidance.

All proceeds go to Ida Relief for Small Black Neighborhoods.

This is practice participating in the future.

I believe the future is Mutual Aid.

Each of us showing up, asking for what we need. And others responding, with what they can give.

I trust the sustainability of our humanity.

So here’s our assignment:

Get clear about what you need, right now.

Then, show up and ask me to meet that need.

I trust the sustainability of our work.

This is no small task. But we all must practice — because the way the world is going, with our weekly apocalypses — we must have this skill.

So what do you need? And what do you have to give?

Schedule a session here: https://veralester.as.me/ida

If you aren’t available for a session this Friday, but still want to support the work, you can 1) send a gift by Venmo (@VeraLester) or Paypal (paypal.me/veralester), 2) Share this post, or 3) Keep talking about what’s happening, for as long as you can.

We are creating the new normal, one breath at a time.